The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 12th, 2009

Phonology Circle **TUESDAY 10/13*** - Michael Kenstowicz

Please note the special day (Tuesday) for this week’s Phonology Circle- normal place and time!

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz
Title: Laryngeal (Mis)alignments: the Adaptation of Mandarin Loanwords into Yanbian Korean
Coordinates: TUESDAY (10/13) 5pm, 32-D461

This presentation (based on Ito & Kenstowicz 2008 and 2009) examines the ways in which two laryngeal categories of Mandarin Chinese are adapted into the Yanbian dialect of Korean in a corpus of c. 250 contemporary loanwords. The first concerns the mapping of the Mandarin binary aspirated-unaspirated distinction with respect to the Yanbian ternary tense-lax-aspirated contrast and the second the correspondences between the Mandarin four-way tonal contrast with respect to the Yanbian high-low pitch opposition. In both cases the phonetic correlates of the phonological categories play a crucial role in understanding the correspondences.

Ling-lunch 10/15: Aysa Arylova

Join us for this week’s Ling-lunch talk:

Speaker: Asya Arylova
Time: Thurs 10/15, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

The talk will focus on the Russian predicative possession BE-construction.

BCS Cog Lunch 10/13 - Nadya Modyanova

Speaker: Nadya Modyanova, PhD, Simons Postdoctoral Fellow, BCS
Date: Tuesday, Oct 13, 12pm, 46-3015 (Note special location!)
Title: Semantic and Pragmatic Language Development in Typical Acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Williams Syndrome

This talk focuses on understanding the reasons for children’s overuse of definite article ‘the’, to refer to one of several objects in a context set, as opposed to the unique established referent. Competing theories argue the deficit is either in children’s semantic computational knowledge (of uniqueness/maximality), or in their pragmatic/social awareness/theory-of-mind development. Experiments in this dissertation focused on children’s comprehension and interpretation of the indefinite and definite determiners, as well as ‘that’, anaphors ‘another’ and ‘same’, and free relative clauses.

The results suggest that in typically developing (TD) children the late acquisition of determiner ‘the’ is due to the late maturation of the semantic principle of maximality. Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and with Williams syndrome (WS) either manifested an adult-like competence, an absence of manifestation of knowledge, or a pattern found in TD younger children (where ‘that’ is understood better than ‘the’ as referring to the salient unique referent) - indicating delay of development of the language faculty, but no deviance. This suggests that the observed deficits in ASD and WS pattern with those in TD, and hence are also semantic in nature.

Beyond posing an explanatory challenge to linguistic theories, the research comparing typical and atypical development sheds light on the mechanisms of language development and impairment, and provides endophenotypic descriptions of ASD and WS, which are crucial for elucidating not only genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders, but also the genetic basis of the human language faculty.